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The struggle of the handicraft industry in Bhutan under COVID-19

Bhutan’s fight against COVID-19 has been successful so far with the lowest death and infection rate worldwide.  On the 6th of March 2020, a 76-year-old American tourist who had travelled from India tested positive. This was the first registered case in Bhutan. Subsequently, the country implemented strict containment measures and closed its borders to all tourists. The handicraft industry, highly dependent on tourism, suffers deeply as most craft makers sell their products to the handicraft shops visited by tourists.

handicrafts of Bhutan under Covid 1

The arts and crafts are important components of the Bhutanese Culture and of great interest to tourists, who love to see the makers create extraordinary pieces from raw material. Their indigenous designs and authentic craft-making skill have caught the attention of travelers. This often transforms into revenue for the makers. The younger generations have caught on to this phenomenon and have shown more interest in learning these specific skills, as they can bring a source of wealth.

While the financial impact of COVID-19 is evident, this crisis is impacting the industry in a less obvious manner and could have a long-lasting impact on the arts and crafts of Bhutan. 

A direct financial impact on their business

If you have been to Bhutan, you have surely paid a visit to the handicraft market in Thimphu and Paro. After Covid-19 wreaked havoc, the streets, once a busy and bustling sight, became empty. The unsold items that can be found in the shop are what constitute the craft maker’s capital. Without sales, they can’t benefit from their investment and are running out of cash flow.

On their livelihood

The financial impact on the artisan’s business had a direct impact on the livelihood.  Many artisans were the sole breadwinners of the family. The disruption caused by Covid-19 upon the Bhutanese artisans could have had an underlying psychological impact upon them.    

And on their mental

Psychological or emotional health is as important as physical health. After many artisans got laid out, their psychological health depreciated as well. This had a major impact on their overall well-being. The psychological meltdown had a lot to do with not getting to do what they were passionate about. 

Impact on creativity

Previously, the artisans had a platform in the form of their workplace, where like-minded artists and craftsmen worked together emulating their creativity. After Covid-19 struck, lockdown became the accepted norm. Staying back home hindered their creativity and thus their progress. 


Impact on the future of the arts and crafts 

The younger generation can see how harshly the sector has been impacted, it is becoming less and less attractive to them as the crisis is lasting and shops are closing. On the other hand, they see the growing need for skilled employees in the IT and internet sectors. The prospect of being able to work online from anywhere, for any company in the world, is much reassuring and attracts most of the youth these days.

handicrafts of Bhutan under Covid 3

Covid has had a negative impact on Bhutan. But within the crisis, there have been a few success stories as well. Some of the artisans are learning how to turn to online selling and some businesses transitioned from their industry to a new one, just like we did. Before being Taste of Bhutan, we used to be Bhutan Concierge, a boutique travel agent organizing tailor-made trips to Bhutan. When the COVID-19 first struck, we felt this would be a long-lasting crisis. We realized that, like us, many people were affected by the pandemic, and in particulars the craft makers that were directly relying on the tourists.

With fair trade principles in mind, we created an online platform where craft makers could sell their arts online.’ With all sorts of authentic, organic, handmade indigenous products directly sourced from the artisans, we hope to give our customers a ‘Bhutan’. By shopping on our platform, you are taking a stand with your money to ensure a decent livelihood for the makers of our community.

The products are available to ship worldwide, and all interested buyers can click on the link below to help our talented artisans.

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